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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                  14{,
house surgeon was called. He felt the Commissar's pulse,
gave him a camphor injection and put the nozzle of the
oxygen bag to his mouth. The surgeon and the nurse
busied themselves around the patient for about an hour,
seemingly without avail. At last the Commissar opened
his eyes, smiled feebly, almost imperceptibly, at Klavdia
Mikhailovna and said softly:
"I'm sorry I gave you all this trouble for nothing.
I didn't reach hell, and haven't brought you the stuff for
your freckles. So you will have to put up with them, my
dear. It can't be helped."
The jest made everybody breathe with relief. A stout
oak that man was, and perhaps he would withstand even
such a storm as this. The house surgeon left the ward,
the squeaking of his shoes slowly dying in the corridor,
the ward maids also went away, and only Klavdia
Mikhailovna remained. She sat sideways on the edge
of the Commissar's bed. The patients fell asleep again,
except for Meresyev, who lay with eyes shut, thinking of
artificial feet that could be attached to the pedals of his
aircraft, even if it were with straps. He remembered the
instructor at the air club speak about a Civil War airman
who had short legs and had small blocks of wood at-
tached to the pedals of his machine in order to be able
to reach them.
"I'll be as good as you, my lad," he kept on assuring
Karpovich. And the words "I will fly, I will fly" rang
joyously in his mind, driving away sleep. He lay quiet
with his eyes shut. Looking at him, one might have
thought that he was deep in slumber ^nd smiling in his
And lying there, he heard a conversation which he
later recalled on more than one occasion during difficult
"Oh, but why do you behave like that? I think it is
terrible to laugh and joke when you are in such pain.
My heart freezes when I think of the suffering you are
going through. Why don't you want to go into a separate
It sounded as though it was not the kind and pretty
but seemingly passionless nurse Klavdia Mikhailovna who
was speaking, but a woman, ardent and protesting, and